Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
January 25, 2020
The Trump administration has gone to great pains to purge Obama-era science advisers from federal advisory boards and replace them with their own. Trump’s scientists seem to have the integrity many of his administrative appointees, e.g., EPA Administrator Wheeler lack.
The administration is going to have a tough time defending its actions in court. It’s possible that administration lawyers are counting on courts deferring to agency expertise in these matters. It is equally possible that they don’t care.
The hole in this strategy is that the administration’s own scientists are unwilling to validate wishful facts. In the clips below, Wheeler and Trump are both called out on their statements about what a proposed rule will and won’t do, as well when the world can expect to begin feeling the impacts of global climate change.
Is it any wonder that 1,600 scientists have left government since Trump took office? Although rarely spoken of, part of Trump’s legacy will be the shambles the executive branch will be upon his departure.
Love it or hate it, the bureaucracy is needed to implement legislation and carry out the orders of the chief executive. It is also required to do the research necessary to craft and defend regulations.
An incoming president wanting to move quickly on climate-related policies and programs will find him/herself stymied for the lack of needed administrative and subject matter personnel. Moreover, an incoming administration is going to have a very tough time convincing the best and brightest to consider public service.
The exodus. Hundreds of scientists have been pushed out of the federal government, sidelined or muted since the beginning of Trump’s tenure. The mass departures have been “fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.”
By the numbers: A fifth of high-level appointee positions in science are vacant. At the EPA, almost 700 scientists have left in the past three years, with only 350 replacements hired.
In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left government, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data analyzed by The Washington Post. That represents a 1.5 percent drop, compared with the 8 percent increase during the same period in the Obama administration.
Of those who departed, the numbers were greatest among social scientists, soil conservationists, hydrologists and experts in the physical sciences — chemistry, geology, astronomy and physics. (Washington Post)
Enough is enough. Bernard McNamee, a Republican member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), unexpectedly announced he wouldn’t seek another term after his tenure ends June 30. (Washington Post)
EPA docs The EPA didn't provide evidence to back a claim from Administrator Wheeler that “most of the threats from climate change are 50 to 75 years out.” He made the comments during a CBS interview last year, prompting environmental group Sierra Club to submit a Freedom of Information Act request and file a lawsuit to push the agency to hand over any documents or research that support Wheeler’s statement, the Hill reports. (Washington Post and The Hill)
Less than 2 minutes to midnight. The Doomsday Clock is closer to midnight: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight, the symbolic hour that marks the end of the world. It’s the first time in 70 years that the clock has passed the two-minute mark, underlining the growing risk of nuclear war, climate change, and disinformation. (Washington Post)
Talk’s cheap. Business titans who, for decades, brushed off warnings about climate change arrived at the annual World Economic Forum this week ready to show their newfound enthusiasm for the cause. (New York Times)
Net-zero 50. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, R, on Tuesday announced he wants the state to adopt a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - a target also included in comprehensive legislation expected to be introduced in the Massachusetts legislature on Thursday. (Utility Dive)
Seriously? Indiana Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) thinks climate activist Greta Thunberg is inspiring. In President Trump's world, that's a controversial statement for a Republican senator to make about the 17-year-old Time Magazine person of the year who has become a punching bag for a climate skeptic president who questions the established science linking human activity to climate change.
Toning the truth. The EPA’s science advisers debated toning down the language of a draft report to agency chief Andrew Wheeler that finds flaws in the EPA’s proposed “secret science” rule.
The proposed rule (RIN:2080-AA14) would bar the agency from using scientific research that isn’t or can’t be made public. Critics have said the proposal is a bid to sideline the science the Environmental Protection Agency uses in regulations because the agency wouldn’t be able to rely on epidemiological studies, which often draw on private medical information.
It’s OK with us. The Obama-era ozone limits will remain in place now that a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-led coalition of energy and manufacturing companies have decided against challenging a federal appeals court ruling that largely upheld them. (Bloomberg)
Two-faced tariffs. For most of the past year, there’s been a big hole in President Trump’s China tariffs—one in the shape of a solar panel. Companies that build America’s major solar farms spent 2018 and early 2019 begging the administration to exempt jumbo versions of two-sided “bifacial” panels used to create vast, utility-scale solar farms. Relatively few bifacials are made domestically. For some reason, when the administration finally agreed to issue an exemption, it was much broader than the industry had suggested. So broad, in fact, that it reshaped the market and left Chinese panel makers as dominant as ever.
Since June, all bifacial panels have been tariff-free, and Chinese panel makers are turning the once-niche design into a cornerstone of their U.S.-aimed product lines. A trade court has temporarily blocked the White House’s efforts to kill the exemption. Trump is expected to decide as soon as next month, as part of a scheduled review, whether to make the otherwise-harsh solar tariffs even harsher. Trade adviser Peter Navarro has said, “the loophole for bifacial solar panels China is currently exploiting needs to be slammed shut.” The White House declined to comment. (Bloomberg)
Cash in. A BlackRock-backed group aims to raise an initial $500 million for a private equity fund that will invest in climate change-linked infrastructure upgrades in emerging markets.
The group will provide the first $100 million of funding for the Climate Finance Partnership (CFP), which was set up in 2018 along with France, Germany, and the Hewlett and Grantham charitable foundations, it said in a statement on Wednesday.
The funding will go toward a first-loss tranche that will absorb any initial losses, a safety net for other institutional investors that BlackRock expects to help it raise at least another $400 million.
A drive on the clean side. The Department of Energy is moving to develop clean vehicles. The push includes nearly $300 million in new funding for clean transportation technologies, including electrification, hydrogen fuel cells, and biofuels.
The Energy Department will also partner with the Electric Power Research Institute to focus on speeding deployment of electric transportation systems, including charging technologies and how to integrate charging into utility operations. (Washington Examiner)
Another NEPA violation? A dozen Democratic state attorneys general filed comments Wednesday opposing a Trump administration plan to expand drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The state attorneys, led by California, said the Bureau of Land Management’s draft leasing plan could lead to downstream emissions increases of up to one billion tons of carbon if the agency moves forward with opening an additional 6.5 million acres for drilling that is now off-limits.
The Democrats allege BLM violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to analyze the draft plan’s contribution to climate change fully. (Washington Examiner)
A black swan only green. Climate change could cause the next financial meltdown. A report issued this week by an umbrella organization for the world’s central banks argued that the answer is yes while warning that central bankers lack tools to deal with what it says could be one of the biggest economic dislocations of all time.
The book-length report, published by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, signals what could be the overriding theme for central banks in the decade to come.
“Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to human societies, and our community of central banks and supervisors cannot consider itself immune to the risks ahead of us,” François Villeroy de Galhau, governor of the Banque de France, said in the report. (New York Times)
Wrong again. President Trump has said his plan to weaken federal mileage standards would make cars cheaper and “substantially safer.” But the administration’s own analysis suggests that it would cost consumers more than it would save them in the long run and would do little to make the nation’s roads safer.
“My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer,” Trump tweeted in August.
Officials now estimate that the rollback would lower the average sticker price by about $1,000, Carper noted, but drivers would pay more than $1,400 in additional gas costs over the lifetime of those vehicles. The rule also would cost at least $34 billion more than it would produce in benefits over those vehicles’ lifetimes, he added. (Washington Post)
The administration’s own. EPA's Science Advisory Board agreed to remove references to the potential benefits of California's voluntary auto emissions deal with Ford and other automakers from its report on the Trump administration's rollback. The report will still broadly conclude that the administration's proposed SAFE Vehicles rule was "very poorly done in some respects," according to Peter Wilcoxen of Syracuse University, the chairman of the working group that produced the board's draft report, which cited the California deal as a potential intermediate option between the Obama-era emissions targets and the complete freeze proposed by the Trump administration. (Politico)
Will they? The heads of five major environmental groups — including new NRDC president and former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy — are calling on GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and six other automakers to stop supporting the Trump administration's auto emissions rollback in court. A full-page ad running today in The Washington Post, Detroit Free Press and Sacramento Bee calls on the companies to instead support "state clean car leadership" and "rigorous" federal standards. "If they continue on this path, the auto companies will find themselves on the wrong side of history — and facing a consumer backlash," McCarthy said in a statement. The other signatories are the heads of the Environmental Defense Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Politico)
Pipedreams. The administration has approved a right-of-way allowing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built across U.S. land, pushing the controversial $8 billion project closer to construction though court challenges still loom.
The approval signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and obtained by The Associated Press covers 46 miles (74 kilometers) of the pipeline’s route across land in Montana that’s controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Casey Hammond, assistant secretary of the Interior Department.
Those segments of federal land are a small fraction of the pipeline’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) route, but the right-of-way was crucial for a project that’s obtained all the needed permits at the state and local levels. (Our Quad Cities)
The survey says. The Alliance for a Sustainable Future — formed via the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions — released the results today of the third installment of its annual sustainability survey showing what kind of climate action is occurring throughout the U.S. The survey showed 60 percent of U.S. cities have launched or expanded a climate initiative or policy over the last year and 57 percent of cities intend to do so this year. The survey also found that 61 percent of cities support public electric vehicle charging stations, and two-thirds of cities have energy efficiency policies for municipal buildings. The survey spans responses from mayors from 182 cities from 39 states and its release coincides with a separate report of five case studies on how cities and utilities are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (C2es)
As long as they make their payments. Big banks are resisting pressure from activists to stop financing fossil fuels.
Mike Corbat, chief executive of Citibank, said Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos that it is not the role of banks to pick “winners and losers.”
“We don’t want to find ourselves being the person that dictates winners and losers,” Corbat said, according to the Financial Times. “A bank’s job is to support the communities in which it operates. It is not to dictate outcomes.” (Washington Examiner)
We decline. The National Association for Manufacturers won’t be endorsing new federal regulations like a carbon tax this year.
NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons indicated Wednesday that his powerful trade group supports an “innovation agenda” for addressing climate change that does not explicitly require companies to curb fossil fuel use.
“Going forward, we need energy regulations that allow us to keep innovating and delivering reliable energy from all sources — oil, gas, nuclear, solar, wind, renewables, and more,” Tim-mons said during his State of Manufacturing address in Pella, Iowa. (Washington Examiner)
Want to know a dirty secret? New facilities to send LNG overseas would move U.S. ‘further away from climate goals.’ Environmentalists once touted the fuel, nicknamed “freedom gas” by the Trump administration, as a better energy alternative, but an analysis shows the plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions rival those of coal. (Bloomberg)
BP has successfully lobbied US policymakers to weaken a landmark environmental law, clearing the way for major infrastructure projects to bypass checks.
US government documents show BP America lobbied in favor of Donald Trump’s decision to dilute legislation, which could make it easier for new projects, such as oil pipelines and power plants, to move forward with far less federal review of their impact on the environment. (The Guardian)
Why even have advisers? The Trump administration promised certainty to farmers, ranchers, and developers Thursday when it unveiled its new waters rule — but they might not be able to deliver that any time soon.
The new regulation replaces the Obama-era Waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, rule, setting a narrower definition of which waters are covered under federal Clean Water Act protections. The Trump definition, for example, excludes many ditches, all ephemeral streams, which flow with rainfall, and wetlands that aren’t directly adjacent to covered waters.
There are already several legal challenges waiting in the wings, from environmental groups and California, New York, and other state attorneys general who say it’s an “unlawful assault” on the Clean Water Act.
They argue the Trump administration’s rule doesn’t just roll back the Obama-era protections. It goes so far as to exclude waters that have been protected federally since the Reagan era, they say.
Environmentalists are already arguing the Trump administration is going to have a tough time defending its rule, especially since the EPA’s own science advisers have questioned whether it’s supported by science. (emphasis added) (Washington Examiner)
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.